Fleet managers need to  work closely with their organization’s heavy equipment operators to...

Fleet managers need to  work closely with their organization’s heavy equipment operators to ensure safety.

Photo: Caterpillar

Managing the heavy equipment in your public sector fleet can make or break your site safety.

If repairs and parts replacements are overlooked or not completed in a timely manner, it could jeopardize the integrity of your machines.

So how can you improve your fleet management to protect workers, which are your public sector’s most valuable assets? 

Steve Cline, product support manager for Caterpillar’s Job Site Solutions, shares three insights from his experience as a heavy equipment fleet manager on how you can help lead your government organization from a reactive to a proactive environment when it comes to safety.

Build Relationships with Your Operators

Cline said a strong frontline defense is critical to fleet management’s role in ensuring job site safety in day-to-day operations.

“One of the most important elements to that is actually the operator,” Cline said. “They have probably the most influence on the health and safety of that machine.”

Fleet managers need to recognize this and work closely with their organization’s heavy equipment operators, he said.

Another reason to get to know your fleet crews is because you need to make certain they’re handling the fundamentals that affect fleet performance correctly.

“It's important that they not only be trained to operate the equipment safely and efficiently, but they also need to be trained on how to do a proper daily inspection,” Cline said. “That's where, on a day-to-day basis, the whole proactive maintenance and repair effort is started.”

In addition to daily documented inspections, operators should conduct visual walk-around checks throughout the shift.

“Every time you mount the machine, you should also inspect the machine, just to make sure nothing's happened during the time that you've been operating the machine,” Cline said.

Fleet management should establish a process to triage noted problems. Issues that affect the safety of the machine and operator need to be addressed immediately. Minor problems, such as a hose sweating but not leaking, can wait.

Operators need to be trained to operate the equipment safely and efficiently, but they also need...

Operators need to be trained to operate the equipment safely and efficiently, but they also need to be trained on how to do a proper daily equipment inspection.

Photo: Caterpillar

Pay Attention to Easily Overlooked Areas

Often, it’s the major equipment failures that get the most attention.

But Cline said fleet managers need to make sure their maintenance plans address even the small or mundane issues, which can turn into potential safety hazards.

“Being proactive is the best way to help our customers be as efficient and productive as possible,” he said.

Some of the most commonly neglected areas that Cline said the fleet management team should be aware of include:

Seat Belt Inspections

Unlike on-highway fleet vehicles, heavy equipment seat belts need to be regularly inspected and eventually replaced, due to degradation from weather and extreme environments.

Caterpillar recommends replacing seat belts every three years, Cline said. Seat belts on Cat equipment have a date stamp for operators and fleet maintenance professionals to reference.

Oil Leaks

There are many ways that an oil leak can lead to an unsafe condition, Cline said. For example, one of the riskiest aspects of an operator's day is mounting and dismounting the machine.

“We certainly don't want oil and grease on the machine where it could compromise the grip or the step of an operator,” he said.

Fire prevention is another concern.

“That small leak can lead to a big leak, and there's a lot of hot surfaces on heavy equipment,” Cline said.

And if there's oil getting out of the machine, there's dirt getting in. Cline said an oil leak indicates a seal has been compromised. Dirt that enters the machine will reduce the life of other components.

“If it's not handled appropriately, it could lead to a system failure,” he warned.

Operator-Driven Events

Fleet managers should closely monitor actions by heavy equipment operators that could cause unsafe conditions or the machines to go beyond the parameters they are designed to handle.

“We look at these types of operator-driven events as opportunities to improve performance,” Cline said “We try to do that through training.”

Common operator-driven events that fleet managers should assess include seat belt warnings and coasting in neutral.

Make Data-Based Decisions

Increasingly, fleet managers can enhance site safety through the power of telematics. It’s up to the fleet management team to interpret the data and implement processes that protect crews and prolong the life of the machines.

“You have to make sure you're communicating with all the proper stakeholders,” Cline said. “That regular communication, whether it be weekly or every other week or monthly, establishes a cadence of accountability.”

When used effectively, telematics can free up time for the maintenance team to better handle their backlog of repairs or form more efficient service plans.

“That should really enable a healthier and safer fleet,” Cline said. “If through telematics, you're getting more hours in your day to be productive, you can apply that to being proactive with that fleet and keeping it healthy and safe.”

About the Author: Karen Scally is the content director at Gearflow, an online parts marketplace built for the construction equipment industry. Karen has covered the fleet management and heavy equipment markets for more than a decade. This article was adapted from its original version, “How to Boost Job Site Safety with Better Fleet Management,” on the Gearflow blog.